The truth about climate change is still inconvenient



Photos by Cynthia Price


by Cynthia Price


Al Gore did not invent the notion of climate change, nor has his crusade to help people understand and combat it polarized the discussion.

Though the conversation “heated up” in the late 1980s (when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC was created) and early 1990s (when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was developed in Rio de Janeiro), the first mention of the science behind climate change can be traced back to... 1859, when a scientist named Tyndall “demonstrate[d] that some gases block infrared radiation, and note[d] that changes in the concentration of the gases could bring climate change.” That’s 1859, not 1959.

(For an interesting scientific timeline, visit

But it was not until 2006 that former Vice President Al Gore – also the 2000 presidential candidate who famously lost the close election based on a Supreme Court decision – made a film that brought the notion of climate change, formerly often called global warming, to the public in a popularized form. An Inconvenient Truth won two Academy Awards and numerous other accolades; Gore himself, along with the IPCC, won the Nobel Peace Price in 2007.

Scientists now regard that documentary as being close to completely accurate, and studies have shown that it helped close rather than widen the gap between those who believed the science and those who denied the science.

In fact, An Inconvenient Sequel, shown last Sunday at the Cinema Carousel by the Harbor Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in partnership with the Progressive Democratic Women’s Alliance, starts out by indicating how many of the predicted events (debunked by climate change deniers at the time) had since come to pass.

An Inconvenient Sequel
tries to put a positive face on the progress made regarding dialing back the carbon dioxide emissions that cause the “greenhouse gas effect” that leads to climate change. Something that people often misunderstand is that – in addition to the overall increase in global temperature that sets new records year after year – warming of things like the ocean has additional, sometimes counterintuitive, effects on the climate.
These lead to increased flooding and extreme weather events, including cold ones.

One of the central dramas of An Inconvenient Sequel involves the negotiations at the Paris Climate talks to bring opponents of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, primarily India, to agreement to sign the climate change accords. Gore plays his fairly small part, and India signs. (Since that time, President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the agreement.)

Another focus of the film is how dire the situation is becoming. After explaining how, in addition to sea level increase, climate change causes flooding and stronger hurricanes, Gore meets with the mayor of Miami as the streets flood. Enormous changes have taken place in the Arctic ice cover, as well as elsewhere.

Gore’s optimism is founded on the great increases in renewable energy use, and An Inconvenient Sequel focuses on the greatly reduced costs of wind and solar energy. His hope is also based on the actions of municipalities, counties, and states – as well as companies and investors – to move ahead with mitigating climate change despite the ups and downs at the federal level.

After the film ended, three panelists gave their impressions and answered audience questions. Moderator Margot Haynes introduced George Heartwell, the former mayor of Grand Rapids who ushered in an era of sustainability that current Mayor Rosalynn Bliss continues; Bill Wood, the Executive Director of West Michigan Environmental Action Council; and Tanya Cabala, environmental activist.

In addition to being a former Examiner columnist, Cabala is running to be the State Representative for the district that includes the Whitehall area as well as Norton Shores. She previously worked for the
?Lake Michigan Federation (now the Alliance for the Great Lakes), developing a Muskegon office for the Chicago-based organization and advocating for environmental issues from dunes to inland lakes.

Heartwell reviewed for the Earth Day audience his decision as mayor of Grand Rapids to move the city itself to 20% renewable energy sources by 2008, and when that goal was met early, upped the ante to 100% by 2020.
Though Mayor Bliss has since moved that out to 2025, Heartwell said he feels it will be achieved – a few cities such as Burlington Vt., have already done so.

Former Kent County Department of Public Works Director Doug Wood, a Norton Shores resident, asked Heartwell, an ordained minister, a question about the role of religious organizations in climate change and environmental activism. Heartwell, who had previously echoed Al Gore calling opposing climate change a “moral, ethical, and spiritual imperative,” said that he feels there has been a shift towards environmental stewardship in many who are religious.

He also took the chance to praise (Doug) Wood for his stellar work in improving Kent County’s recycling facilities. Later Heartwell explained about the incentive program the city uses to get people to increase their recycling, which was met with high approval and several remarks along the lines of “We should try that!”

Bill Wood talked about divesting from fossil fuels and putting pressure on retirement funds to invest elsewhere. He added said that WMEAC feels it critical that the organization’s commitment to working against climate change not impact people on the lower end of the economic scale adversely or inequitably.

Cabala talked about policy, including increasing the mandate for renewable energy in the state, and leadership. She referred to Margaret Wheatley’s books about the importance of creating leaders.

Questions ranged from more about how to increase recycling rates to the greenhouse gas contribution of animal factory farms (one is being fought in Montague area) to creating a climate resiliency plan.